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Thursday, 08 August 2019 10:05

Hikers enjoy blooming prairies, moderate temperatures

Written by  Ice Age Trail Alliance Helwig's Hikes
Hikers Howard and Laurie Rothstein of the town of Whitewater admire many miles of blooming prairie. Hikers Howard and Laurie Rothstein of the town of Whitewater admire many miles of blooming prairie. Ellen Davis photo
The Tuesday hike report by Jake Gerlach: Thirteen people showed up for our walk on a beautiful summer evening. Since the temperature had moderated, I decided to hike the green Nordic ski trail. When we got to the prairie section there was a sea of lavender flowers in bloom. There was a lot of Monarda and spotted knapweed (a very invasive prairie plant). There were also yellow coneflowers, Queen Anne’s lace, even a primrose.
When the orange trail turned to go back, three people who needed a shorter hike took that trail. The remaining 10 hearty souls walked the complete 3.66-mile circuit of the green trail with its many hills. Near the end of the hike we saw a large machine that is used to clear underbrush. It had been used recently because the branches and leaves that clung to the cutting part were still fresh. This was a great hike on a great evening.

The Wednesday short hike report by Ellen Davis: What a wonderfully cool summer day it was. Jake assembled the short-hikers promptly at 10:30 and offered a choice of two hikes: around Lake La Grange or through the prairie from the hunters’ parking lot off Wisconsin Highway 59. The majority chose the prairie hike, but four who had recently hiked that trail chose to go around the lake — perhaps adding a loop or two of the intersecting horse trails. The other 13 of us headed for Palmyra and the trail beyond.

We took a gravel drive off the highway (near County Highway S), identified by a small Ice Age Trail sign. To our joy, we found that the potholes in the drive had been filled and the parking areas somewhat enlarged. The mud puddle at the beginning of the trail had been filled in, with the surface now merely a bit squishy in places, not 8 inches deep in mud. A huge improvement — thank you, Department of Natural Resources!

The prairie, though not quite in full bloom, was glorious —mostly shades of purple, yellow and white under a brilliant blue sky dotted with fluffy white clouds. The view seemed to go on for miles, reducing us hikers to an insignificant place in this vast and colorful landscape. On we went, through Queen Anne’s lace, lavender monarda and spotted knapweed, and spikes of purple loosestrife and liatris, white Culver’s root, blue vervain, mauve milkweed, rosy Joe Pye weed, yellow prairie coneflowers, sunflowers, assorted clovers and much more. We passed the old fieldstone wall and went through marshy area and a cluster of old oak trees. A sign informed us that this prairie — the Scuppernong — covered 3,500 acres. Out on the prairie again, we passed two antique apple trees covered with 2-inch-diameter fruit. A pink prairie rose appeared, and blue chicory and crown vetch.

We reached the bench at County Highway N and took a short break. We continued across the road, through a woodland and a pine woods, along another glorious prairie and over a boardwalk through a marsh. A chance to turn back was offered, and a few tired hikers accepted. The rest of us went on to Wilton Road, took a short break and started back. Almost immediately we met two of our hikers — who had not started out with us — coming up the trail in our direction. What happened? They had taken County H out of Palmyra instead of Wisconsin 59, but realized the mistake, found the parking lot and hiked the trail. We returned together at a relaxed pace, admiring everything from the opposite direction. Those of us who made it to Wilton Road hiked 3.9 or so miles. It was definitely a very nice — and flowery — hike.

The Wednesday long hike report by Marvin Herman: Today featured wonderful summer hiking weather with temperatures near 70 degrees and big puffy clouds hanging in skies of blue. Fourteen long-hikers regrouped at the parking area across from the La Grange General Store and from there, carpooled to the trailhead on Tamarack Road. We were able to accomplish this using only two vehicles due to the slimness of the hikers who always exercise and watch their diet (just kidding).

At Tamarack, we realized that the hike that was planned would not yield a sufficient distance to meet the definition of a long hike. Therefore, we did a “pre-hike” of about a mile heading south on the northbound bike connector trail that runs between the Muir and Carlin bicycle trails and then bush-whacked to the parallel trail, north on the southbound trail. Once or twice we had to jump to the side of the trail to allow bike riders to pass us.
With that mile under our belts, we crossed the road to the Ice Age Trail in the direction of Horse Riders Campground. We crossed Little Prairie Road and finally reached the campground, where we stopped for a break to refill our water bottles from the tap and to use the restroom. Some hikers visited with a Girl Scout Troop enjoying a picnic lunch on the grounds.

From the campground, we found the wonderful Magic Stairs, a stone staircase cut into the side of a hill that allows us to access the bike trail toward the Emma Carlin trails. Once all of us were up to the bike trail, we hiked toward Carlin. This bike trail is extremely difficult and we did not encounter cyclists on it. But it also was a challenging hike to navigate the rocks and roots on this forested trail bed. Much of the hike was on an esker, a long, winding ridge formed by melting ice walls in tunnels in which glaciers or ice sheets have melted.

Next stop was the overlook where we caught our collective breath and then carried on back in the direction of the John Muir Trails. Though most of this bike trail is in heavy forest, monarda and Queen Anne’s lace heavily decorated the trailside. Soon we headed back across Little Prairie Road and ultimately to our vehicles. We had hiked a distance of six miles.

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